Sunni: Hi Jim! Thanks so much for taking some time to talk with me today. How are things there near the belly of the beast?
Jim: The chatter about impeachment is rising, so it ain't all bad.
Sunni: That is a welcome sound indeed. How are you doing? You got enough beer to keep your whistle wet throughout our conversation? [laughs]
Jim: Am I allowed to drink during the interview? Well, that changes everything.
Sunni: [laughs] As if I could, or would even want to stop you! You know, I'd've thought you'd be a whiskey or scotch drinker ... not sure why, now that I think about it. I like a few good brands of beer but have started to lean more toward bourbon, myself.
Jim: Where I was raised in the mountains of Virginia, beer and wine were what high school kids drank. I reckon there are pluses and minuses to preferring beer to harder stuff. On the flip side, it is rare to see anyone with a "whiskey belly".
Sunni: [laughs] Probably because drinking enough to cause one would kill you first! So, Jim, I think pretty much anyone in this country who's pro-freedom has at least heard of you or one of your books. How did you come to be pro-freedom?
Jim: I started to become politically aware at a time when government lies and abuses were roiling the nation and the world. I was in high school as the Vietnam War was coming to an end—and this was the same time that Nixon imposed wage and price controls which profoundly disrupted the economy. Inflation was roaring along, and some of the free market economists I had read explained how this was a government con. In high school, I worked one summer on the State Highway Department. Being a flag man was a hoot, especially when drivers would toss me free beers. Working alongside convicts in a road gang, I heard some stories about dishonest government prosecutions that awoke my interest in the criminal justice system. And the convicts stressed that the best illicit drugs they ever had were in prison, which fed my contempt for the war on drugs. The guard with the shaved head and four-keg beer belly which he rested his shotgun on did nothing to boost my respect for the state. My favorite part of that job was working with a chainsaw—an experience that proved invaluable for my future work as a journalist. It was much more inspirational than baling hay or fighting snakes in trees while picking peaches, as I did the prior two summers thanks in part to federal restrictions banning me from other work.
Roaming in the East Bloc in the mid-1980s gave me a stronger sense of the evil of tyranny. The gaunt faces and pervasive paranoia in Bucharest vivified the barbarity of Ceausescu—a political vampire who drained the nation's blood. Being interrogated for hours by the East German military police at the Czech-East German border was good preparation for dealing with the T.S.A. Assuming that all my phone calls were tapped was good training for living in post-Constitutional America. Seeing the fraud of the "mixed economy miracle" in Hungary fueled my contempt both for communists and for American intellectuals who were chirping that the Hungarians had discovered a
third way between communism and capitalism. Many of the public intellectuals either did not recognize or did not give a damn about freedom then, and plenty of them don't give a damn now.
Sunni: Wow, Jim. I had no idea you had that kind of history. Did you intend to turn your political beliefs into an essential part of your livelihood? Or did you start out wanting to do something besides writing?
Jim: I started out as a finance major in college but quickly decided I wanted to be a writer. I was initially interested more in philosophy than in politics, as far as what I wanted to write about.
Sunni: What was your first paid writing gig?
Jim: I sold an article, Liberty &/Vs. Equality, to the Freeman in the summer of 1977. Paul Poirot was the editor who accepted it. That provided much encouragement to keep me going at a time when everything I sent elsewhere got thumbs down.